Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Gaiwan brewing

J's and my first brew
 J., a European reader came to visit me yesterday. He asked for my help to learn how to brew Oolong properly. So, I set up a mirror Chaxi on a table: we would be brewing my high mountain Alishan Jinxuan Oolong (spring 2013) with the same accessories and the same water.

This let J. see precisely what I was doing and copy my movements. I also explained each step.

0. The preheating

It is not just about preheating the gaiwan and the cups. It's also a first opportunity to practice the pour of your kettle: each kettle has a different water flow. You have to learn how to control the strength of this flow. Pouring the water in the gaiwan and later from the gaiwan in the cups is also a good way to calm down and focus on your movements. You become more careful not to make a mess with the water. And you can also measure the volume of water that will fit in each cup. Remember this level, so that you can avoid pouring uneven amounts of tea in the cups later on.

1. First brew.

A layer of dry leaves in the gaiwan, just boiled water and a rather energetic pour that lets the leaves dance in circles in the gaiwan. Cover and wait until you see/smell that the tea is ready. (This may take some time, because the leaves need to open up).

The result for the first brew was quite different for both of us. J's leaves were pushed on one side in the gaiwan, while mine were open evenly. I also seem to have used more leaves than J. The brews also tasted differently. J. said he tasted bitterness in his, and that mine had a nicer fragrance that seemed to linger forever! What did he do wrong, he asked? The only major difference was the pouring of water in the gaiwan. At the end of his pour, he was uncertain how to end. The flow lost its strength and continuity. The flow was like hesitating to stop instead of slowing down calmly.
Second brew after swap
 2. Second brew

Since the leaves should be well opened, the second water can be poured more slowly and it can brew for a shorter time.

This time, we swapped gaiwans, because J's first brew was uneven and needed a special pour to make it harmonious again. I wanted that J experience with a standard second pour and that's why I gave him my evenly opened gaiwan.

This time again, J felt that my brew tasted sweeter and nicer. Despite having fewer leaves, my brew felt more concentrated! Why? he asked. His pour wasn't very confident and even. Also, even when you know the general principle, you need to think of the particular tea and leaves you have in front of you. With a high mountain Jinxuan, what are the characteristics that you wan't to find in your cup? Here, it's more the fragrances and the mountain energy. This means you shouldn't be too slow.
Qingbai (light green) and yabai (ivory white) cups have an impact on the color!

3rd brew, like second
3. Third brew

The leaves are more open and have released their flavors twice already. This means we should pour with more strength and brew for a longer time than the second time. How strong and how long depends on the actual state of your leaves.

The leaves on the left still haven't fully released their flavors, while those on the right are completely and evenly open by now.

J. identified his kettle at home as a problem: the way it pours isn't precise or well controllable. Having experienced some great brews will also help J know what kind of taste he can/should get out of the leaves.

There are lots of brewing methods floating around. Many people are surprised that I don't rinse my Oolongs (or puerhs). As for the lack of rinse, I just don't want to miss a drop of my good teas. (Notice how nobody rinses green tea or  even cheap tea bags: the best flavors are up front and you don't want to loose them!) Others may wonder about my long brewing times or near boiling water temperature.This reflects the high quality of the leaves in my selection. Such leaves can take the heat and will perform their best if you combine these parameters with good skills. (And if you wonder about the quality of your leaves, subject them to a competition brew: 3 grams, boiling water, 15cl porcelain vessel and 6 minutes brewing).


Miss Tea Delight said...

Hi Stephane, I can very quickly identify with the first brew's photo where the tea leaves tend to slant to the side where tea is poured from. In your case, you have diagnosed the problem to be one of bad pour. But, could it also be that it is simply caused by gravity? I have experimented also with other tea types such as green tea which doesn't take up lots of space even when fully opened and in my case, the leaves almost always move towards one side of the gaiwan as a result of gravity, or so I would like to think. What is your opinion on this?

Steph said...

A good study!

TeaMasters said...

Thanks Steph!

Miss Tea Delight,
Of course, gravity will push the leaves towards the side from which you pour the tea. This is especially the case, as you noticed, when there are fewer leaves in the gaiwan.

However, for Oolong, the ideal is to pretty much fill the gaiwan with leaves. In the second and third brew I was then able to get the leaves to open much more evenly in the gaiwan. This shows that the problem could be solved with a better pour.

Miss Tea Delight said...

Thanks stephane. This has been most informative!

payton said...

Wonderful! When I am next in Taiwan, it would be an honor to learn a lesson like this. I admit that I haven't paid very much attention to the pour of my kettle.

Petr Dušek said...

Thank you for very informative article. I have one question. Which one of those gaiwans is yours and which J's. On the left or right? Just want to know which is good one.

TeaMasters said...

I hope we can arrange it, Payton.

My gaiwan is always on the right. However, it's not always the same, because we switched after the first brew.

Fil said...

This was really useful for giving me a few pointers as I try to learn how to get good, consistent results. Guess there's no replacing being shown first hand.
Thanks again.

Joao Seixas said...

Just a short comment of my part. I should say that changing the kettle really made a difference. Although my pouring movement is still far from perfect, there was a complete change in the results I obtain now. And, being a physicist, it is still difficult for me to understand why the way the water is poured makes a significant change in the final taste of the brew (believe me, it does!). I guess I'll have to continue in my free time to think about this...

TeaMasters said...

Joao (J),

Thanks for your feedback. I'm glad that the kettle I provided to you has helped you get a better control on your water pour, and that you are obtaining better brews now.

One thing that makes tea so amazing is that it is so sensitive to small changes!